By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
Spend a few mornings in Laguna Beach these days, and you'll inevitably encounter Michael Minutoli. He's the extraordinarily happy guy on the corner of Coast Highway and Brooks Street who's waving hello to the drivers whizzing past, dancing around to whatever music is playing in his earbuds, and adorned in a variety of eye-grabbing outfits. Minutoli is the latest in a line of similar Laguna Beach greeters stretching back to the 19th century.
"If I can make people happy when they're heading to work, give them just a little spark of happiness, then that makes my day," Minutoli says in a heavy accent befitting his New England upbringing. "It's fun to see their reactions. I'm going to do this until the day I die, or as long as I can wave."
Nobody else had carried on the greeting-complete-strangers-just-for-the-hell-of-it tradition for a while, so three years ago, Minutoli thought he may as well do it himself. But before Minutoli took up full-time greeting, he had made another name for himself. Since 1990, he has managed to crash a variety of celebrity-heavy awards shows and parties and get his photo snapped with pretty much every A-lister you can think of.
Ask Minutoli for proof, and he'll gladly show you a scratched-up book filled with definitely un-Photoshopped selfies: Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, Bono, Tom Hanks, Prince Charles . . . The shots—and the names—seem endless. As are the stories. He's been kissed by Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor. He jumped onstage at the end of a Billy Joel and Elton John concert and somehow didn't get his ass kicked by security. His most public crash happened at the 2004 Grammys. When OutKast was picking up their Album of the Year trophy, there was Minutoli, extending a hand to congratulate Andre 3000. (Look it up on YouTube; keep an eye out for the bald white guy on the left.)
Minutoli's reputation has grown large enough to garner him profiles in The New York Times and a segment on The Today Show. A few years ago, two filmmakers produced a feature-length documentary on Minutoli called Crash Artist: Beyond the Red Carpet, which you can search for on Amazon. But his days of crashing appear to be on the wane. Security at celebrity-laden gatherings has become extra-tight in a post-9/11 world, and even if Minutoli were to finagle his way inside another Oscar party, chances are that younger crashers would squeal and get him booted out. Apparently, the party-crashing game has some ruthless competition.
"My challenges are way higher than they used to be," Minutoli says. "I went home from the Golden Globes a couple of weeks ago disappointed, but not in a bad way. I still got in a photo behind Lady Gaga that was in People and went all around the world." (Sure enough, he did.)
There's great irony in Minutoli's hobnobbing hobby with the well-heeled: He's homeless. Has been for years—by choice. He greets during the mornings and spends the rest of his day being one of Laguna Beach's many colorful characters, but at night, he sleeps in enclaves around the city.
"I don't have a home to go to, but I don't really look at myself as homeless," Minutoli says. "I've never been hassled by the cops. I don't really worry about my safety. I fall asleep comfortably, even though I don't like to go to sleep, but I've been that way all my life. I don't panhandle, and there are a lot of people in Laguna Beach who really care about me. I probably cry about once a day when I'm waving to people because of the joy that the city gives me. I don't take that for granted."